By Lisa Meiman
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s new standards, which became effective April 1, all electrical workers—linemen, electricians, electronic communications craftsmen and others—must use fall protection when working four feet above a lower level.
Between Feb. 17 and March 18, Western sent all 25 line crews to Mead Substation in Boulder City, Nevada, to train them in OSHA’s new fall protection standards.
“Fall protection has come a long way since I started working here,” said Senior Vice President and Upper Great Plains Regional Manager Bob Harris. “I am impressed at how Western has attacked these changes. The Fall Protection Committee evaluated existing tools and equipment, worked with manufacturers to improve tools and equipment where possible and collaborated with Western’s Structural Engineer Charlie Garcia to evaluate safe attachment points. Their work will help create a safer environment.”
Nearly all Western’s craft were affected by the new rules and face challenges associated with fall protection. Today’s electrical infrastructure, which includes transformers, communication towers, circuit breakers and transmission structures, was not designed with fall protection in mind. Linemen witnessed the most changes because of the complexity of the structures. The scope of the changes prompted the Fall Protection Committee to explore developing a new fall protection training program that all linemen would attend.
In the classroom, linemen learned about the changes to the rules and what it meant for their work. “OSHA changed only a few words, but the impact was far reaching,” said Harris. In particular, OSHA removed a “qualified climber” designation, which allowed trained workers to free climb up and around structures.
Attendees then watched a 20-minute training video produced by the FPC that outlined the different tools and processes linemen could use to meet the fall protection requirements.
“The line hands who put this together are experienced,” said Upper Great Plains Lineman Todd Lehner who works out of Glendive, Montana. “They could answer all our questions about the gear. They had done their homework.”
Each day, two crews received classroom instruction and hands-on experience on both wood and steel structures. In total, about 150 linemen were trained by the core team of Western’s FPC.
Translating instruction to experience
After the classroom instruction, attendees moved outside to try new equipment and climb both wood and steel structures using new tools and procedures.
UGP Lineman Shayne Bender, who serves on the FPC’s core team, shared, “Our group developed work practices, procedures and equipment that are user friendly. There are lots of changes, and we had a lot of tools for the linemen to use.” At the training, crews were encouraged to try several types of equipment to see what fit best with their style, including a new harness-body belt combo that Western and vendors jointly developed.“We want to let guys choose what equipment they want as long as it’s compliant,”said Bender. “The training was not meant to be pass/fail, but to let them see what worked best for them.”
Linemen had to complete an obstacle course of tasks on both a standalone wood H-frame structure and a de-energized steel lattice tower. Tasks on the wood H-frame structure included:
Ascending with fall arrest equipment
Accessing a crossarm with a self-retracting lanyard
Traversing the top of the structure using fall restraint
Rescuing a dummy
Descending with fall arrest equipment
On the lattice tower, linemen had to:
Climb with a buck hook with self-retracting lanyard or mobile fall arrestor to the “waist” about midway up the structure
Climb from the waist to the bridge using a vertical lifeline with mobile fall arrestor
Cross the bridge using double pelican hooks
Descend most of the tower using a double Y-lanyard on specially designed step bolt flanges
Climb down a ladder to near the tower base with the mobile fall arrestor
Traverse one side of the tower with rings
Climb out onto horizontal ladder using mobile fall arrestor
Descend to the ground
Ascend the tower again with vertical lifeline and mobile fall arrestor, then rappel from bridge to ground
The training was well received by linemen and other utilities like Pacific Gas and Electric, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, who visited Mead to observe the training. “It is great training,” said Rusty Vance from PG&E. “Western has done a lot in a short time. Some portions we really like and want to use in our own training.”
“Fall protection is an ongoing process,” added UGP Lineman Phil Gingery from Glendive. “I like that the training had open discussion.”
In the end, creating a safer work environment was the most important goal. “Although the change is difficult now, I believe we will look back in a few years and say we are safer,” concluded Harris.